HARROGAte player-coach Mike Aspinall will stay at Claro Road next season and has vowed to propel the club back into National Two North after Saturday’s heart-breaking relegation.
Harrogate will pit their wits in National Three North next term after an unbelievable climax to the campaign.
Aspinall’s last-gasp try against Leicester Lions looked like securing them the bonus point 25-21 victory they needed to leapfrog Otley, who were losing at Hull Ionians.
But, in scenes which will go down in club folklore, Otley somehow grabbed a last minute score to secure their status in the division and send their neighbours down.
“It was a rollercoaster of emotions,” said Aspinall.
“Hull could have kicked to touch to end the match, but they didn’t. It’s funny that the whole season comes down to something like that.
“But it’s happened, our job now is to focus. I’m ringing around the players telling them about my decision to stay. The lads in the bar after the game were saying they want to stay and get the club back up to National Two next season.
“Harrogate have been a National League team since the league started.
“It’s a big club, it’s a family club with hundreds of junior players. For me the first team must be put on a pedestal and made into something the juniors can aspire to.
“I think the club are starting to realise that now.
“There was a time when I found the club quite frustrating. But I think there’s light at the end of the tunnel now and sometimes it takes something like a relegation to wake a few people up.”
A run of three straight wins in April, including huge fixtures at home to Caldy and Leicester, nearly saved ‘Gate’s skin.
They will need the same effort and commitment next season in a National Three league which is notoriously hard to get out of.
“The lads need a rest first,” continued Aspinall.
“Then we’ll regroup in a few weeks. Carnegie will have to see whether they want their players to play in National Three, but hopefully they will. One thing I will be doing, however, will be to secure Callum Irvine, and make sure he’s at Harrogate next season.
“He will be in the Leeds Academy squad but I want him to stay here. I personably want to take over his development, he will be starting at fly-half, he’s a 18-year-old kid with a lot of potential and is certainly one for the future.”
Saturday’s extraordinary day looked like being a damp squib at one point with heavy showers causing a waterlogged pitch.
It was passed playable but the all-out war was played out in swamp conditions.
Both sides were clearly nervous coming into the fixture. But after going into the break behind, ‘Gate produced a stunning second half display to win 25-21, however it proved in vain.
“I was proud of the lads,” added Aspinall.
“I’ve got a really committed bunch of players at Harrogate. They’ve said they want to stay together next season and get us back to where we belong.”
See page 47 for a full match report.